The Korea Herald


U.S. budget cuts could affect Seoul’s fighter buy

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 9, 2011 - 16:21

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Lockheed Martin says will seek solutions to keep price of its jet affordable

As the U.S. government considers reducing its budget for its next-generation fighter jet program, concerns have been raised over Seoul’s planned purchase of new combat aircraft.

As part of its deficit reduction plan, Washington seeks to curtail its defense budget by around $450 billion over the next decade.

It reportedly plans to make savings by scaling down or delaying its project to secure new fighter jets, namely F-35 stealth combat aircraft; reducing nuclear arms and the troop level in Europe; and through other belt-tightening measures.

The U.S. military’s plan was to secure 2,400 F-35s over the next two decades with a budget of $400 billion. The U.S. Senate Defense Subcommittee has recently recommended a budget cut of $695 million from the F-35 program, according to sources.

The budget cut could influence the purchase price and the delivery time, should Seoul decide to choose F-35 jets ― manufactured by Lockheed Martin ― for its FX-III fighter acquisition project, experts said. 

F-35 F-35

Under the acquisition project worth around 8 trillion won ($7.17 billion), Seoul is seeking to purchase some 60 next-generation fighters to be delivered for operational deployment from 2016.

“Of course, when there is a budget reduction, this could inevitably influence the purchase price and other factors,” Yang Uk, senior research fellow at Korea Defense and Security Forum, a local online media site, told The Korea Herald.

“Under these circumstances, our government’s negotiating capabilities are very important so that Seoul would not have to shoulder unexpected development costs. Regardless of the budget issue, the F-35 program will definitely be carried out as it is crucial project for itself and other partners.”

Concerning the budget issue, Lockheed Martin said that it would seek to come up with “affordable solutions.”

“Lockheed Martin recognizes that there are difficult challenges in preparing this budget, and we will continue to partner with our customers to ensure that we deliver affordable solutions that support our national and economic security initiatives,” said John W. Giese, manager for F-35 communications of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in an email interview with The Korea Herald.

“We look forward to reviewing the legislation when it is released on Thursday, and it would be premature to comment on individual programs until that time.”

Lockheed Martin has said that the per-unit price for the F-35 to be delivered to South Korea is expected to be around $65 million in 2016.

F-35 Lightning II, Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle and the Eurofighter Typhoon made by European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company N.V. are being cited as the likely candidates for Korea’s FX-III project.

Korea’s request for proposal for the FX-III program will be issued next February, officials said. Seoul plans to select the successful candidate for the program in October.

The F-35 has been co-developed with eight foreign partners ― Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway ― since 2001. The U.S., along with the eight countries, has invested some $50 billion for the F-35 project.

The single-seat, single-engine F-35 jet with a maximum speed of mach 1.8 has three different variants.

The conventional takeoff and landing F-35A is for air force operations, while the F-35B is the Marine Corps’ short take-off and vertical landing variant and the F-35C is the Navy’s carrier based version.

Seoul has been moving faster to secure stealth fighters as calls have persisted for the military to acquire precision-guided weaponry that can counter asymmetrical threats from the North.

It also wants to keep pace with neighboring countries such as Japan and China that have sought to develop their own stealth aircraft.

By Song Sang-ho (